Wide open spaces, zero distractions and one simple goal. Even as a Brit who’s never so much as held a gun, let alone had the urge to shoot animals with one, the appeal of hunting is not lost on me. It’s why I was looking forward to booting up Hunting Simulator 2. I was genuinely excited to explore lovingly-rendered nature reserves and immerse myself in a pastime all-but absent from my country’s culture. Unfortunately, despite the fleeting highs of hunting victory that punctuate sessions with Hunting Simulator 2, the game’s lack of depth combined with a muddled mix of simulation features and arcadey mechanics make the game more of a tiresome chore than an immersive, virtual hunting getaway.
Hunting Simulator 2 is an indecisive game; both tonally and gameplay-wise it seems split between two opposing design philosophies. Some mechanics—like the player having a scent or animal tracks gradually fading over time—suggest developer Neopica wants to recreate a true hunting experience, while several arcadey concessions—including lack of bullet drop or wind direction—confuse the experience and leave it without a clear sense of purpose. Even the tutorial, which establishes a clear “get out with my pals, hunt some game and be back to work for Monday morning” tone, is harshly countered by how it’s followed up by an immediate visit to the suspiciously soulless (and presumably expensive) hunting lodge that acts as the protagonist’s home base. If you told me this lodge was the holiday home of Patrick Bateman I wouldn’t be surprised; classical music, pristine surfaces and not a sign of being lived in almost make the place eerie to walk around. It’s impossible to imagine the characters briefly established during the tutorial living here, and frankly, I don’t want to meet the person who does.
Stalking, killing and bagging prey—with the help of your faithful tracker dog—is a process that merely pays homage to the real act of hunting, certainly not to the extent that it earns a label like ‘Simulator’. A successful hunt involves following your prey’s tracks as they grow increasingly fresh, sneaking up on them and landing that perfect shot to the vital organs before bagging up the fresh corpse and heading back to your grand but soulless home. Tools can be used to aid this process: scent disguisers, animal callers, rangefinders and wind checkers, but mostly, it’s down to you and your dog (who, thankfully, can be petted) to land that kill. Even if tracking your prey is made bland by the unimpressive environments, bagging an elusive, hard-to-track target is a thrill and one of the game’s few highlights. The genuine cries of joy prompted by those first few successful hunts can’t be denied and almost makes the lengthy preamble worth it… almost.
It must be a universal law that all entertainment is improved with dogs because, like with everything else featuring a canine companion, Hunting Simulator 2 is improved by its pups. My Beagle, Ned, was a little too ‘barky’ at times, but he was superb at following tracks—even reacquiring tracks that I’d since lost. More breeds can eventually be bought, but I’d forged a relationship with Ned and wouldn’t give him up; no amount of increased hunting potential could get in the way of what WE had. Plus, with dogs benefitting from improved doggy-stats the more you take them out on hunts, staying loyal to one hunting partner is incentivised.
Like with real hunting, the act of tracking and stalking prey must be inherently appealing to you if you’re hoping to get the most out of Hunting Simulator 2. Players used to the ‘Ubisoft’ style of game structure—with progress bars, challenges, and upgrade trees on all sides—will be poorly served here. This is a game that provides little in the way of external motivation, instead relying on the player’s desire to take to the six wide open nature reserves spanning America and Europe for the pure, simple joy of it. Successful hunts result in either new trophies for your nameless protagonist’s showroom or a cash prize which can be spent on new weapons, clothes, scopes, gear and hunting licenses, providing at least some incentive to go after the biggest and most valuable of the game’s 33 species. While new weapons are necessary to hunt with complete freedom (fines are incurred by using an inappropriate bullet type on an animal), none of them feel particularly fun to use. Bolt-action rifles, semi-automatic guns, shotguns and bows at least add some variety, and the selection within these categories is staggering—a big plus for firearms enthusiasts. From a gameplay perspective, however, the variety is unnecessary; dozens of variations on bad is still… well, bad.
Bullet type isn’t the only restriction placed on hunting excursions. Killing female animals or hunting certain game without the appropriate license will see you racking up pretty hefty fines. Licenses don’t last forever either; you’ll need to renew them on a per-animal basis after you’ve bagged a certain number of whichever animal the license pertains to. This, combined with the ammo type restrictions on each animal, encourages the targeting of specific prey, not just ‘anything that moves’. It’s a smart design choice, one that leads to more mindful play than is found in most games. Hunting Simulator 2 does appear to treat the subject matter—killing animals—with an appropriate amount of reverence. It—rightly—punishes players who treat it as an animal slaughter-fest and deserves praise for doing so.
It seems that for every expertly placed step, Hunting Simulator 2 takes a clumsy, twig-snapping stomp. Weapons are both numerous and based off real-life firearms, yet they all feel unpleasant to use; track-following mechanics add a layer of much-needed realism, but lack of wind direction or bullet drop create a confused, semi-arcadey tone; there are even a variety of environments to visit, yet none of them come close to capturing the appeal of being in nature. There’s a market for hardcore hunting simulators and there’s a market for arcade animal shooters, but I’m struggling to believe that there’s much of a market for this indecisive hybrid.
Hunting Simulator 2 (Reviewed on Xbox One X)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
Hunting Simulator 2 combines arcade and simulator elements to form a game that lacks much of an identity. Hardcore hunting enthusiasts will find things too simplistic; players after an animal shoot ‘em up will be frustrated by the more realistic elements. While not completely devoid of fun, it’s just too dull to fully recommend.